My adventures are usually dreamed up when I notice an interesting feature on a map, or I spot an unfamiliar peak or valley while exploring. This time I only thought of the idea a couple of days before July 4th. I would watch the annual firework display from a nearby mountain. Since the show doesn't start until after 9:00pm, I'd have to descend through a forested area at night, but I'd have a unique view that would make it all worthwhile.
The attempt started at a time when most people prefer to be ending their day in the wilderness. Sunlight pierced the forest canopy at an unusual angle as daylight began to fade, but the bold colors of summer wildflowers gave the illusion of more light.
Leaving the popular trails behind, the forest became more dense, but there was still enough light to navigate without assistance. I checked through my gear list in my mind, even though it was already too late to go back in time to see the show. In addition to my usual hiking essentials, I carried a full-sized tripod, a powerful flashlight, and a few camera accessories that I'd probably need once I was in position.
It was obvious that my intended location was nearby when the forest canopy became thin and the darkening sky was clearly visible. With a clear view of the firework launching area, I began to set up for shooting. Tripods are designed for flat ground, so the side of a mountain is far from ideal. I had checked on the moon phase before leaving, and anticipated good lighting for the return journey, but that all began to change as I looked around me and saw clouds gathering.
As the beginning of the display drew near, a lightning strike in the far distance caught my eye. It was too far away to hear any thunder, but I would have to keep it in mind while sitting in my exposed high-altitude position, and be prepared to abandon the shoot. Light but steady rain and strong gusts began a few minutes before the display, but it was a small price to pay.
I saw no more lightning, but the rain and wind became more stormy as the last fireworks detonated, and I was glad to descend into the relative safety of the forest. However, the light of the moon was now mostly blocked by dense clouds. Without a flashlight, there wasn't enough light to literally see the hand in front of my face, let alone retrace steps. I don't recommend night hiking to anyone. Navigation is more difficult than you might imagine, and encounters with wild animals are far more likely. Had I stuck to my original plan, I would be alone at this point, but my wife had decided to tag along and we used a buddy system to illuminate both the trail and the surrounding forest. As I led the way, I was surprised to find not a single pair of eyes watching us. Perhaps the fireworks had caused the wildlife to find a quiet slope elsewhere, or maybe we were making too much noise.
This trip wasn't the longest or highest I've traveled for a few photos, but it was certainly one of the most memorable.
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